Wednesday, September 28, 2011

6,000 back on hunger strike, a friendship is the first casualty

I'll say straight out...  Yes, Bryan is back on hunger strike. More on that in a bit

Two days ago I got a nice card from Bryan written on 9-15-11 in which he expresses deep appreciation for our friendship.  He also was devastated by the fact that CDCR had moved one of  his closest friends to another area.  This man has been in the same area as Bryan for almost 15 years.  This is part of a stated CDCR policy to break the hunger strikers, they randomly reassign men to different cells in an effort to tear apart support structures between friends.  Make them go it alone, crush their wills.

Imagine if your best friend, brother/sister or even spouse was whisked away in the middle of the night, and you could never speak to them again.  Now imagine that you are in solitary confinement, where the likelihood of building another trusting friendship in this world of misery and pain is slim.

How did these two men become friends?  It was nearly impossible.  As seen in the picture above (click on it to enlarge), each pod or area contains 8 cells with the guards monitoring the area sitting in a control area.  At exercise time a button is pushed and Bryan's door opens automatically.  He then walks through the pod area (picture on the right) into the exercise area, know as the dog run, which you can see in the picture on the left.  Inside this bare, concrete box, there is a steel door, welded shut, that connects to another dog run for the neighboring pod.  If you bend very low or crane your head to place your ear upon the door, you can hear and talk to the man in the next exercise area.  Sometimes you never even know what they look like. That is how he and his friend met. 

They exercised together, calling out a set of calisthenics, going individually to do the sets, then coming back to the door to decide on the next exercise.  Two guys working out together, what could be normal than that?  In prison, even in solitary confinement, friendship finds a way.

 Bryan and his friend learned Spanish together (I don't know who taught who) and supported each other though trials related to prison, family, heartache, and just trying to stay sane for another day.  For 15 years, this friendship was a great comfort to both. 

This is a minuscule  example of how ugly this hunger strike is going to be.  CDCR is going to be relentless in crushing this peaceful protest for basic human rights.  In the press release below, issued by, you can read about how horrible this battle is going to be.  CDCR is going for the jugular.  Expect death....many deaths.

Bryan knows all of this and still remains committed to the fact that this hunger strike is the only way, the very last attempt prisoners can make to draw attention to the horrible, inhumane conditions of life in solitary confinement.  He has been there for 16 years, he has nothing to lose but his life, and it is going to take a "body count" to get the public and government officials to put the extreme pressure required upon CDCR to force them to change the torturous conditions of the SHU.  

It is very clear to me that only when the bodies of hunger strikers start to pile up will CDCR even think about changing things. During the last 20 day hunger strike, Bryan lost 29 pounds, and due to seizures and heart arrhythmia, nearly died during a 5 day hospital stay in Crescent City. 

These men are committed, determined, strong of will and thoughtful as they begin this hunger strike, but they will be forced to go the distance.  Bryan is willing to lay down his life so that others will never know the torturous conditions he has lived with for 16 hears.  I know in my heart that it will probably come to that. 


For Immediate Release – September 28, 2011

6,000 California Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike
CDCR Threatens Disciplinary Action

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Office:  510 444 0484
Cell:   510 517 6612 

California – Lawyers and mediators received confirmation from a reliable source today estimating that 6,000 prisoners statewide are taking part in a second wave of a massive hunger strike against inhumane conditions in California Secure Housing and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) Units. While California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has not yet disclosed which prisons are participating, family members have confirmed that up to 1,000 prisoners in both the Calipatria State Prison general population and Ad-Seg units as well as prisoners at CCI Tehachapi, CSP Centinela and West Valley Detention Center are refusing food. “The CDCR is very tight-lipped about the numbers of prisoners known to be on hunger strike,” says Molly Porzig, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, “During the July strike, it took persistence by journalists to get accurate figures on how many people and in which prisons. We assume the same will be true of this strike.”

The prisoners are refusing food to protest what have been characterized by human rights groups as torturous conditions in California’s Securing Housing Units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay, CCI Tehachapi, CSP Corcoran and Valley State Prison for Women. Prisoners continue to rally around 5 demands, originating at Pelican Bay, which include an end to the practice of long term solitary confinement as well as the policies of gang validation and debriefing. A prisoner at CCI Tehachapi recently described the conditions and reasons for striking: “The only clothing we are given in here are socks, boxers and a t-shirt. To be honest they’re filthy. Now just imagine being locked in that bathroom for 24 hrs, 7 days a week, year after year after year for no legitimate reason. We have only been allowed to have fresh air for four hours in the past eight months.” 

In a September 27 memo signed by Deputy Director Scott Kernan, the CDCR has threatened disciplinary action against any prisoners taking part in the strike as well as placement in Ad-Seg and the removal of canteen items. The CDCR recently stated that it had sufficiently addressed the prisoners’ demands and that any future hunger strikes would not be treated in the same fashion as the July strike, which lasted for nearly four weeks.  The prisoners maintain that while they have received some privileges such as sweat pants, colored pencils and proctored exams, the CDCR has yet to move on the demands related to solitary confinement and gang validation. “Though promises were made at the end of the last hunger strike, and some progress has been made, it is painfully slow for people who have lived under conditions of torture for years, and often decades in California’s prison system,” says Laura Magnani, a member of the prisoners’ mediation team and a representative of the American Friends Service Committee. “While the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tries to paint the prisoners as nothing more than ‘dangerous gang members,’ we see this strike as a courageous effort to work across all cultural and ethnic divisions through time honored non-violent actions.

Many of the prisoners have stated that they intend to continue their hunger strike until all of their demands are met, despite the possibility that they might suffer serious health consequences. Reports from the July hunger strike indicated that many of the strikers lost 20-30 pounds and experienced dizziness, fainting and heart arrhythmia. 

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